Kitchen Mystic

Some people were born to be on a sailboat. Or maybe they light up when painting, hiking in the foothills, or composing or playing music. Maybe for you it’s when you’re working a math equation or writing the perfect piece of code. It’s stunning to me how many different things there are in the world that make people’s souls sing.

As for me, I come alive when I’m in the kitchen. (If you’re a regular reader, this obviously comes as no surprise to you.)

(and here I’m in a kitchen AND in the Cayman Islands, so I’m exponentially happy)

Actually, it’s more than ‘simply’ being in the kitchen. If so, mopping floors, doing dishes, and scrubbing sinks would bring me endless joy. But it’s not only the act of cooking, either. It’s closer to some lovely mélange of cooking, scents, memories, traditions, homemaking, flavors, creating, and an untold number of other unidentifiable things.  

The knowledge that these fragrances and tastes and textures can be combined and manipulated and coaxed into creating something altogether different from their disparate parts, and their lowly starting place, is very heady for me. That knowledge, the memory of what’s been done in the past, and the anticipation of what I might create in the future… it is heady and intoxicating.

Particularly because the Captain and I are so very different in this area, it often gets me thinking about how God imbues each of us with such wonderful, but vastly varied, passions? How does our calling for a particular passion begin?

For example, how did I become a Kitchen Mystic? How did the Captain, raised smack-dab in the middle of the USA, become a person who can only be fulfilled when he is on the salt water? Why does one friend feel this way only when they are hiking in the mountains? Why another passionate about comic/graphic novels? And another structures their whole life around semi-professional pool (billiards).

Certainly some of the cause is the environment we are raised in. But that can’t be all of it, or all siblings would be the same. I am fascinated by the way that God decides for each of us what that spark will be, and then plants it deep within and lights it like a pilot light, there to burn forever and kindle a bigger mechanism at just the precise moment.

Some things that I’ve discovered as I reflect on this topic is that there’s definitely something connected through my dad’s family that I’ve received . Starting at least with my grandfather (and maybe before him, I do not know), I have seen the line of influence for our kitchen mysticism.

My grandfather immigrated from Greece and lived most of his adult life in Tacoma. When he retired (the only stage of his life that I remember), he lived in a tiny, four-room cottage in Tacoma. His chief pride was the garden he grew in his backyard, filled with grapes, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, garlic, herbs, and as many other Mediterranean things as he could coax to grow there.

I remember going to his house, simple and spare, and sitting at his kitchen table or playing in the garden while something simmered all day on the stove and the adults drank wine and talked about food and life and olive oil. I remember my dad telling me about the time he bought his father a 5-gallon tin of Napoleon Olive Oil, and how it took pride of place in my grandfather’s kitchen.

That kitchen has come to be a symbol of something very important to me. I was too young to remember much, and my time with my grandpa too short to have many real memories, but still, his kitchen now seems to be an icon of what was important in his life and what has become important in mine.

These days, more than ever before, I treasure the simple tools of his that I’ve inherited.

Cooking spoons used till the paint gained a shiny patina, including a wooden spoon that doesn’t scrape or ladle well, but which can tell tall tales of food through generations.

An enameled casserole that has done duty for more than 50 years through three generations

A cutting board that you would never find in a store, and looks all the world to me like a hunk of soft fir driftwood that was found on the Tacoma sound flats. 

These things live in my kitchen, and are part of my daily life. What a blessing to have them with me still.  

My father was similar, and I received much of my passion for food and cooking from him. Growing up, my dad would spend all day every Saturday and Sunday in the kitchen, working on some amazing meal for the early evening, watching the ballgame while preparing whatever it was: watching it, tending it, making it just right. 

(The white bowl on our table – I’m about 5 here – is the same one in the draining rack in the last picture of my grandpa’s kitchen. Not sure what mystery ingredient is *in* the bowl. :-))

While I was in Jr. High and Highschool, dad shared a house and 13 acres of land with a  friend. This property included a large wooded area, a ¾ acre garden, fenced pasture, and a chicken coop. Looking back now, I realize how much history repeated itself the moment dad had a real place to garden. Every weekend he spent time in that garden – off season was for tilling and working in aged chicken manure. Spring was for planting. And summer – well, summer was incredible.  Carrots, corn, pole beans, tomatoes, cabbages, potatoes, and anything else he could coax to grow. It was so amazing to go out to the garden on a summer day, eating vegetables right off the vine and out of the ground. No washing, no cooking, just brush off  most of the dirt and then straight into our mouths. It was incredible to pick all we needed for a weekend’s worth of meals right from our own garden. Such an incredible medley of scents as the collection of sun-warmed vegetables filled the big metal bowl we took out for gathering. And even better than the smells were the flavors. I have never again tasted food as good as that.

The chicken coop chickens gave us eggs, we got a black Angus cow and new calf, and raised the calf for beef. One summer we decided to raise broiler chickens, so my dad and his friend built a big chicken run and got 100 broiler chicks. Those yellow fuzzballs grew all summer, and my sister and I loved to feed them weeds from the garden and all the grasshoppers we could catch in the field.

It was a magical time, and in remembering that way of spending time and creating food, I realize how much I desire to do the same thing at some point in the future when we have better land to do so. In the meantime, I celebrate the memories of my family’s tradition of kitchen mysticism by lovingly and meaningfully using the same tools and recipes and intent of my fore-fathers.

What a gift. What a mysterious gift.

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